Tennis has many complicated rules. One of them is the walkover rule. This article will explain exactly how this rule works and when it is applied.
A walkover is when a player is awarded the win because the opponent, for whatever reason, cannot play the game. This could be due to personal issues, illness, an injury, or an administrative error. It is only a walkover if the player withdraws before entering the court.
A walkover is sometimes confused with a default or a retirement. This article explains the differences between these three perfectly, so you know exactly when to apply which rule.
According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), “a walkover occurs when there has been an administrative error or when a player decides not to play a match in an event because of an injury, illness, or personal circumstance.”
It is only considered a walkover before the two players step onto the court. Otherwise, it’s known as a default or retirement from a match.
And we will explain what a default and retirement are a little further into this article.
A walkover can be called way before the tournament begins when the draws first come out – if not enough players sign up for the tournament.
A walkover can occur until the warm-up if the player has an injury or illness that feels too terrible to play through an entire match with.
Walkovers in professional tennis are treated the same way as if you and I were playing in a tournament at our local club or park.
No matter what end of the walkover a professional player is on – winner or loser – those players still must attend the subsequent press conferences.
Big fines are dished out to players who skirt their media duties.
If you are personally playing in a tournament and need to pull out for any reason, please call the assigned tournament director as soon as you can.
It helps with them creating draws and helps with the efficiency of running a tournament.
Technically, a walkover does count as a win. However, it doesn’t affect a player’s win-loss record. If you were in a tournament and your opponent withdrew from the tournament, it would be a walkover, and you would advance to the next round.
In professional tennis, a walkover is also considered a win. That player is awarded points and prize money just like they would if they had played the match.
There is one caveat: if the walkover occurs in the first round of a tournament, then no ranking points will be awarded.
According to the USTA, a retirement “occurs when a player is unable to continue playing a match or resume playing a suspended match because of an injury, illness, or personal circumstances.”
In non-professional tournaments, players who retired from a match are still eligible to play other matches within that tournament, such as consolation matches and doubles matches.
While there are no consolation matches in professional tennis, a player who retires from a singles match can still play their doubles match that same day.
A retirement can happen at any point during the match. For the player that retires from a match, that will count as a loss.
Professional players are still required to go to subsequent press conferences following their match, like with a walkover.
The USTA classifies a default “when a player is eliminated from an event under the Point Penalty System (including penalties for lateness) or refuses to play for reasons other than injury, illness, or personal circumstance.
The lateness penalty is typically for non-professional and junior tournaments since it rarely happens on the professional tour.
Let’s break down the Point Penalty System, just so you are aware of what can earn a player a default.
Typically, it’s three strikes, and you’re out. Players do tend to get warnings before any point penalty is given.
But here is the breakdown: your first offense will take a point away from you, a second offense will take a game away from you, and finally, your third offense will default you from the match.
Here are some ways you can earn a point penalty in tennis:
While defaults are far and few in professional tennis, they are memorable. John McEnroe was infamous for his on-court outbursts.
His 1990 outburst in the 4th Round of the Australian Open versus Swede Mikael Penfors earned himself a default after intimidating a lineswoman, smashing his racket, and swearing at the umpire and the tournament referee. He was also fined $6,500 for his behavior.
More recently, Novak Djokovic defaulted from the 2020 US Open.
He hit a lineswoman in the throat with a ball, and while he didn’t intend to harm her (or even aim for her really) he was defaulted.
Some commentators called it unreasonable, but intent doesn’t come into play where the rules are concerned.
Djokovic was defaulted because of “his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences.”
While I personally love a walkover whilst playing a tournament, it can be a mixed bag for others.
Some professional tennis players complain that they would have liked to play against their opponent who had to withdraw from the tournament before their match because they want the matchplay experience, especially when it is a larger, more prestigious tournament like the Grand Slams.
Some players don’t mind it. They have to battle out one less round physically – it keeps them fresher if and when they reach the later rounds of a tournament. It’s less wear and tear on their bodies.
In summary, a walkover is when a player can’t compete prior to their match for whatever the reason may be.
A retirement is when a player becomes ill or sustains an injury during the course of the match and can no longer compete.
A default is a consequence given to a player who repeatedly acts inappropriately during a match.
(Check out this article if you want to learn more about tennis rules)